Starring the lovely, ever-suffering Agyness Deyn, who recently played Aphrodite, as Chris. It’s more recognizably a Davies movie than The Deep Blue Sea was, because it centers around a piece of shit domineering father (Peter Mullan of War Horse, Children of Men) for the first half, then he’s dead (a la Distant Voices, Still Lives) so we focus on a husband Ewan (Kevin Guthrie) who might become a piece of shit domineering father – but doesn’t, because he’s shot for cowardice while at war. Opens with Chris’s mom poisoning herself and her young twins because she’s become pregnant again. So it’s basically a domestic horror movie.

Beautiful lighting, and per Davies tradition, some terrific crossfades. I turned on the subtitles half the time to make out the accents… and even then I sometimes have trouble. “I’m going to live on at Blawearie a while and not roup the gear at once. Could you see to that with the factor?”

I’m on M. D’Angelo’s side here, and I’ll add that the juxtaposition mentioned below was already done very well in Distant Voices, Still Lives:

Whatever Gibbons’ novel means to Davies — and it must mean a lot, as he reportedly spent many years struggling to get this film made — it doesn’t come across, except perhaps in the occasional juxtaposition of brutality and joyous group song. A few stray moments of piercing beauty toward the end (which also complicate what had previously seemed like the tediously downbeat trajectory of Chris’ marriage) can’t redeem the unrewarding slog that precedes them.

As far as beautifully shot but disappointing Davies films I watched this year go, I preferred The Deep Blue Sea, and as far as films I watched this month where soldiers get shot for cowardice in World War One, I’ll take Paths of Glory.

Always difficult to adapt poetry to the screen, so including words from the book as narration is nice. “So that was her marriage – not like waking from a dream, but like going into one. And she wasn’t sure, not for days, what things she had dreamt and what actually done.” Previously filmed as a 1971 miniseries, by the same director who shot Testament of Youth, which was also remade last year.

This is France, but we’re not bothering with subtitles or even accents, because those hadn’t been invented yet in the 1950’s. WWI, fighting against Germany, with rightly celebrated tracking shots through the trenches, from the clueless higher-ups patrolling the men they know nothing about, to the middleman Major Kirk Douglas, a serious star some five years after The Big Sky. Posh general Adolphe Menjou (in one of his final films) has pressured scar-faced general George Macready (evil older husband of Gilda) into commanding an attack to capture a hill in exchange for a promotion. The attack will be a huge failure, killing hundreds of men. Two higher-ups (Gen. George and Lt. Roget) will act supremely dishonorably, the former by sending men to die in a pointless and poorly-planned maneuver and ordering fire upon his own troops, the latter by personally killing a subordinate with a grenade in a cowardly moment. But both will get off without punishment, instead picking three soldier representatives to die by firing squad for the operation’s failure, futilely defended in military court by Kirk.

Three dead men: Paris (Kiss Me Deadly star Ralph Meeker) because he’s the only witness to Lt. Roget’s murder of a soldier, Ferol (Timothy Carey, who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie, but it’s wonderful) and Arnaud (Lloyd the Bartender from The Shining), who had a great pre-fight speech about death vs. pain, and gets knocked down by Ferol in their holding cell and has to be executed while unconscious on a stretcher.

I thought of it as a powerful anti-war film (with a different approach to the insanity of war than Dr. Strangelove), but Gary Giddins’s commentary says it’s not exactly anti-war, but “about power, class, manipulation and the absurdity of war as a continuation of those civilian instincts.” He also says the pre-battle politicking between officers isn’t in the source novel.

The Future Mrs. Kubrick:

Menjou at Marienbad:

J. Naremore:

Kubrick is especially good at drawing sharp visual and aural contrasts between the château where the generals plan the war and the trenches where the war is fought. The Schleissheim Palace outside Munich, where much of the action takes place, later became a location for another film that depicts upper-class intrigues amid the architecture of a decadent past – Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad – and the opening sequence in the palace interior, where Adolphe Menjou suavely manipulates the ramrod stiff but insecure George Macready, was influenced by one of Kubrick’s favorite directors, Max Ophuls, who had died on the day it was staged.

A long, complicated movie – Criterion summary:

The film follows the exploits of pristine British soldier Clive Candy as he battles to maintain his honor and proud gentlemanly conduct through romance, three wars, and a changing world. Vibrant and controversial, it is at once a romantic portrait of a career soldier and a pointed investigation into the nature of aging, friendship, and obsolescence.

Blimp in WWI with John Laurie:

I wrote in 2006: “Oops, I thought this was a comedy. I’d somehow convinced myself that Powell makes comedies and I’m never right.”

At the beginning, the movie seems to be about fiery young soldier Spud, then he disappears for 2.5 hours while Candy goes into a “when I was your age” story. This threw me off the first time I saw the movie, as did Deborah Kerr’s various roles. Throwing me this time: Roger Livesey, handsome romantic lead of I Know Where I’m Going, so convincing as a blowhard old man.

Not covered by the summary above: Candy’s lifelong friendship with German soldier Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook). Candy provokes an international incident in the early 1900’s (during the Boer War) and gets himself into a duel with Theo, then they recover together, both in love with Deborah Kerr #1, who marries Theo. In WWI, Candy meets Deborah #2, a nurse, and marries her. And in WWII, Theo has moved to England and Deborah #3 is dating young Spud, is a favorite assistant of Candy’s for obvious reasons.

Deborah Kerr thinks highly of me:

No character in the film is named Col. Blimp – he was a political cartoon character, a blustery old officer who proclaims his dated ideas in a Turkish bath, the WWII version of Candy. The movie’s a bit long and rambling, but a total pleasure to watch, with color cinematography that is beyond excellent. One of my very favorites.

Duelist Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff:

Powell sounds soooo tired on the commentary.
On Kerr: “I got enthusiastic about her hats.”

Scorsese is more fun. I like when he appreciates the visual design while also saying that you don’t have to care about this stuff if you don’t want to:

Look at the use of red in the menus … These are things I kind of enjoy. I don’t say that as you’re watching the film you should be pointing out where the red is. I think you should just look at the movie and enjoy it, hopefully, and probably you shouldn’t be even listening to this narration, you should be watching the film.

Entrancing from the start, with striking images and a very mobile camera, almost in the mode of Mikhail Kalatozov’s recent The Cranes Are Flying. It’s always interesting when one of my favorite modes of filmmaking – immaculately composed frames, visual beauty in sharp black-and-white – is the early work of a filmmaker who progresses to more diffuse color photography (see also: Leos Carax, Pedro Costa, Ingmar Bergman). Cowritten with Andrey Konchalovsky, already a director himself, and half the cast would return in Andrei Rublev.

Ivan is a spy kid for the Russian army, trying to stay with his military family as long as possible, though they keep trying to ship him to military school and get him out of active combat. Story is told with flashbacks and sidetracks, and crazy great photography. Obviously, being a Russian war movie, it doesn’t end well.

D. Iordanova:

Nearly every scene in Ivan’s Childhood is handled in a manner out of the ordinary, suggesting heightened consciousness of style, point of view, framing, and fluid camera. … Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds seems to have had an artistic impact on the film, with its deep interiors lit by rays of light squeezing through cracks, its moments of veering consciousness, and especially its dislodged religious symbols placed amidst smoking ruins. Buñuel’s Los Olvidados, a critical realist film interweaving dream sequences, is a likely influence as well.

It is in connection with this film that [Tarkovsky] first spoke against the logic of “linear sequentiality” and in favor of heightening feeling through poetic connections, of using “poetic links” to join together film material in an alternative way that “works above all to lay open the logic of a person’s thought” and that is best suited for revealing cinema’s potential “as the most truthful and poetic of art forms.”

I watched this ages ago, taped off TCM with the English title My Name Is Ivan, so now I think of it as My Name Is Ivan’s Childhood. Won the top award at Venice vs. Vivre Sa Vie, The Trial, Lolita and Mamma Roma.

Set in the days leading up to WWI, opens as a sepia-toned silent film with projector noise. Narrator/society reporter Mr. Orlando leads us around an ornate cruise ship packed with opera singers on a ceremonial trip in memory of a departed fellow artist. It’s all quite perfect-looking (and perfectly fake), except of course for the inexcusably awful lipsync. There’s some scheming, some rivalry and nervous looks but most everyone appears to be in the grand spirit of things, even spontaneously singing for the stokers during a tour. But there’s less goodwill to go around when a boatload of Serbian refugees is picked up by the captain and they stare hungrily through the windows as the elite try to enjoy their opulent meals. Eventually the Serbians and opera singers start to blend, and we get some Titanic-like inter-class scenes.

I’m not too good with WWI-era Euro-nationalities but I thought the ship (and some of its royal passengers) was Austro-Hungarian, so when an Austro-Hungarian warship shows up demanding the surrender of the Serbians (but agreeing to wait until after the burial ceremony) I get a bit confused. The art-ship finally sends the Serbians over to the war-ship, but one lobs a bomb and the war-ship ends up sinking the art-ship. Rather than take this seriously (are there enough lifeboats? are the stokers all killed?), Fellini puts the narrator in a lifeboat with a rhinoceros and shows off his sets and camera setup.

Fellini: “The sea was created from polyethylene. The obviously artificial painted sunset looked beautiful. The appearance of artificiality is deliberate. At the end, I reveal the set and me behind a camera, the entire magic show.”

The pudgy Grand Duke’s sister, the blind princess, is played by Pina Bausch, the only time she played a character (not herself) in a film. Narrator is Freddie Jones (Dune, Krull). Barbara Jefford (Ulysses, The Ninth Gate) is an elegant, sad singer, the only one who appears to be in mourning. Not the latest Fellini movie I’ve seen – that would be Ginger & Fred, which seems similar to this one in my memory (assembled group of artists in single location).

One of Busby Berkeley’s unexciting 1940’s flicks (see also: Take Me Out to the Ball Game). He even has a total anti-Berkeley moment, aiming the camera at Judy, singing against a plain wall, and leaving it there for ages. What happened – budget cuts? Not a bad movie though – Gene Kelly’s debut, with established young star Judy Garland (only one year after her last Andy Hardy movie, and two before Meet Me In St. Louis).

Another one of those movies starring two attractive young people who just have to end up together, because it’s a Hollywood movie, even though they shouldn’t. Gene proves again and again that he cares only about his career, playing the Palace in New York, and anybody is disposable on his way to the top. But he doesn’t get to the top, due to the (vaudeville/WWI-era) public’s new interest in war heroes and his successful attempt to draft-dodge by smashing his hand in a trunk. And due to the WWII-era public’s distaste for draft-dodging romantic heroes, the ending was hastily rewritten so a troop-entertaining Kelly tries to warn approaching ambulances that passage is unsafe and ends up singlehandedly taking out an enemy machine gun nest.

Judy doesn’t get as many plot points, but gets to sing some good 1910’s showtunes. She starts out in the show of Jimmy Metcalf (future politician George Murphy), starts a duo act with Kelly until he dumps her when his opera singer friend Eve (Martha Eggerth, 1930’s cinema star in Austria and Germany) suggests she can get him more fame, sob Judy heads to the war to sing for troops, where she’s reunited with hero-come-lately Kelly.

Bosley Crowther: “To one who takes mild exception to sentimental excess, it seems an overlong, overburdened and generally over-talked musical film.” He also calls Judy Garland “saucy.”

A weird sort of (anti-)war film in that the opposing sides (mostly French vs. German) are extremely nice to each other. The great Jean Gabin (between The Lower Depths and La Bete Humaine) is pilot Marechal, flying the right proper monocle-wearing Captain Boldieu (Pierre Fresnay, star of Le Corbeau and Duvivier’s Phantom Carriage remake) when they’re shot down by the right proper monocle-wearing Erich von Stroheim – who shakes their hands and invites them to dinner.

The next section is the source of many comic/dramatic prison camp films, but without the grit and terror of many of them (although Gabin is painfully placed in solitary confinement after provoking a celebration over Germany losing a battle), since WWII forever changed the face of prison camps. The men are stationed with a series of characters digging an escape tunnel beneath their barracks, including three major Rules of the Game actors: The Engineer (jealous husband Gaston Modot), The Actor (Julien Carette, Gaston’s poacher nemesis) and Rosenthal (Marcel Dallo, the marquis), along with Jean Daste (a brush-mustached vegetarian).

That’s Daste at upper-right, and his L’Age d’Or-starring engineer companion over his shoulder:

Before they can use the tunnel, our initial two Frenchman plus Rosenthal (a rich jew who receives lavish care packages from home) are transferred to a new camp – one run by a stiffly strict Stroheim (is there any other kind of Stroheim?), now in a back/neck brace from an injury. They immediately set about planning their escape again. Boldieu causes a distraction while the other two climb down a handmade rope. Stroheim is extremely depressed to have to shoot down Boldieu, a man he considered too respectful to break the prison rules.

Gabin and Dallo on the run:

Finally, a section that proved unexpectedly resonant with Essential Killing – a prisoner on the run encounters a woman living alone (the lead actress of the film, not appearing until the last fifteen minutes) who brings him in and cares for him. Rosenthal has a leg injury, but overall the guys are in better shape than Vincent Gallo was, and Gabin falls for the lovely Dita Parlo (Renoir was always casting actors from L’Atalante), a German civilian with a young son, whose husband and brothers have all died in the war. The men walk off through Switzerland, Gabin hoping to return. But Renoir obviously doesn’t believe he will.

P. Cowie on the audio commentary:

“War is a great illusion,” said Renoir on another occasion, “with its hopes unfulfilled, its promises never kept.” Of course the interesting thing is that [Marechal and Rosenthal] say farewell to each other with no plans to meet, whereas in the original scenario, Bazin claims that the two fugitives had arranged a rendezvous at Maxime’s in Paris for the first Christmas Eve after the war, and the last shot would show “December 24, 1918,” and their table, reserved but empty in the midst of the busy restaurant, as though even their friendship had been an illusion. . . . Many years later, when Renoir was asked about war films and their effectiveness, he replied soberly, “In 1936 I made a picture named Grand Illusion in which I tried to express all my deep feelings for the cause of peace. This film was very successful. Three years later, the war broke out.”

Addictive series full of distinct characters getting into overblown soap-opera situations. It concerns changing social structure in the early 1900’s – specifically, bookended by the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912 and the start of WWI (for Britain) in August 1914 – then season two takes us to the end of the war. An extremely busy series with excellent writing and acting and no wasted time.

Upstairs:

The Earl Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville, star of Asylum) is in charge of the “abbey” (mansion? I see no monks).

His American wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern of Once Upon a Time in America and The House of Mirth) provided all the family’s monetary wealth, has scary eyes.

Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery, who played the murdered decoy-Cate Blanchett in Hanna) is the oldest daughter who should be married by now, but drives away all suitors except a Turkish diplomat, who dies in her bed provoking hushed scandal. She’s supposed to hook up with Matthew in order to keep the fortune in the family, but they drive each other away until the end of the post-s2 Christmas special.

Lady Sybil (Jessica Findlay) is the kinda nice middle daughter who turns political, gets excited about equal rights for women, and finally runs off to Scotland or someplace to marry the chauffeur.

Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) is the youngest daughter, defined mainly by her fights with Mary, which quickly escalate (Mary scares off her would-be-fiancee, Edith writes to the Turkish embassy explaining how their diplomat died). She also has a wartime fling with a neighboring farmer.

The Dowager Countess (the great Maggie Smith), Crawley’s mom, hangs around to provide the official old-world upper-class perspective on everything. She grudgingly agrees to some of the major changes and improprieties, thus staying a lovably wonderful character instead of an increasingly out-of-touch old sourpuss.

Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) is a distant cousin who becomes heir to Downton after a nearer cousin dies on the Titanic. He moves his law practice into town to familiarise himself with his future estate, is being set up to marry Mary, but instead gets engaged to Lavinia. He’s injured in WWI in the same blast that mortally wounds William, and will never walk again. But of course, he walks again.

Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton, Shaun of the Dead‘s mother, also in Match Point) is Matthew’s mom, a contentious nurse who takes over the house when it becomes a recovery home for wounded soldiers during the war.

Lavinia Swire (Zoe Boyle) is the beloved fiancee of Matthew, who is too perfect to ever leave him or do anything wrong, so instead she’s killed off by Spanish Influenza.

Downstairs:

Mr. Carson, head butler (Dennis Potter regular Jim Carter), is the servant equivalent of Maggie Smith – knows exactly his place, and everyone else’s.

Mrs. Hughes, head housekeeper (Phyllis Logan, star of Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies) is a benevolent leader and problem-solver, like a female Carson but friendlier.

Mr. Bates, Crawley’s valet (Brendan Coyle of an upcoming, annoying-looking Poe adaptation/bio-pic) and servant during the Boer War (1900-ish), is hired and allowed to stay despite his controversial leg injury. He and Anna fall in love, but Bates is secretly married, and after his wife takes all his money and still won’t agree to a divorce, Bates possibly kills her. But we’ll see in season 3.

Ms. O’Brien, head maid (Siobhan Finneran of the Andrew Garfield starmaker Boy A) is evil and resentful, always scheming with Thomas, causes Cora’s miscarriage.

Thomas, first footman (Rob James-Collier), is possibly even more evil, also a closeted homosexual. Coincidence? He gets out of the war by arranging a hand injury, A Very Long Engagement-style, loses his fortune in a black-market scam, then achieves his long-held goal of taking Bates’s job as valet.

William, second footman (Thomas Howes), is a hapless, bullied fellow, lovestruck for Daisy.

Anna, head maid (Joanne Froggatt of an upcoming movie with description “a teenage boy’s descent into the dangerous world of the Internet”), is Bates’s sweetheart.

Gwen, maid (Rose Leslie), is learning to type so she can leave service and hold a proper job, secretly assisted by Sybil.

Ethel (Amy Nuttall) is the s2 replacement for Gwen. Even more of a free-spirited, liberated woman than her predecessor, she gets knocked up by a hospital guest and leaves the house in shame. Good, I was sick of her.

Mrs. Patmore, cook (Lesley Nicol), is losing her sight until the family sends her off for cataract surgery – spends the next ten episodes berating Daisy.

Daisy, cook’s assistant (Sophie McShera) is cute, tiny, guilted into marrying William on his death bed from war injuries.

Molesley (Kevin Doyle) is assigned to be Matthew’s servant, keeps almost getting regular plot threads but he’s not quite interesting enough so they get pushed aside.

Branson (Allen Leech) is the commie chauffeur who manages to marry into the family – but never gets invited into the house.

Crew:

Writer/producer Julian Fellowes was an actor for years, appearing in a Bond movie and bunches of miniseries, also wrote Gosford Park, Vanity Fair, The Young Victoria and a new version of Titanic with Toby Jones.

“What a charming evening we might have had if you hadn’t been a spy, and I a traitor.”
“Then we might never have met.”

Another Sternberg/Dietrich movie, and this one just kills The Blue Angel, which I thought was overbaked and had too little Dietrich. Here not only is she perfectly lit and doing a better acting job throughout, but the story is a wartime (1915 Austria) spy vs. spy drama, all romance and excitement, more alive and relevant than the period self-punishment of Emil Jannings. Sternberg seems fully comfortable in his sound world now, maybe not pulling as beautiful images as in the silents, when it was all image, but making a movie that fully works. Some good expressive lighting (backlit against windows when she lets Victor escape) and long-held cross-fades.

Marlene with Austrian secret service man Gustav von Seyffertitz (Hymn Book Harry, who performs the wedding in Docks of New York):

The opening titles prepare us for tragedy and sexism, telling us that codename X-27 “might have become the greatest spy in history… if X-27 had not been a woman.” This is referring to the ending, when she lets the enemy spy she loves escape before his execution, which leads to her own. But of course the reason she’s a great spy in the first place is that she’s a woman, able to seduce and sleep with (whoa, pre-code) enemy officers in order to steal information, the Black Book of its time.

At the start, war widow Marlene is out streetwalking to pay the rent (whoa, pre-code!) when she picks up a gentleman with a droopy ‘stache who tests her patriotism, pretending to try recruiting her for anti-Austrian work, and when she has him arrested he reveals that he’s the head of Austrian secret service and actually wants to hire her for pro-Austrian work, argh.

Warner “Charlie Chan” Oland as the spy who shoots himself:

Some veils, feathers and masks later, she’s at a party with more confetti and streamers than I’ve ever seen in one place. She acts interested in Russian Mustache Spy and retires back to his place, where she discovers his secret spy stash, all the while acting super-fucking-cool while he creeps away and kills himself.

The colonel is Victor McLaglen, Lon’s strongman sidekick in The Unholy Three who’d win best actor for The Informer a few years later:

With a distinctive smile like Victor’s, what use is a mask?

Off to unveil the secret identity of the dead spy’s undercover colonel friend from the costume party, which is simple since he has the most excellently recognizable sinister smile. And a cute little mustache – every man has a mustache.

The colonel is onto her spying ways – she’s got him, then lets him escape. She goes to Russia and acts as a timid housekeeper at enemy headquarters, then back home where she sees the grinning colonel again and lets him escapes. Sentenced to death, she asks only for a piano and “any dress I wore when I served my countrymen instead of my country,” so gets killed by rifle squad in her feathers and veil.

Pre-execution, at her piano: